Chapter 10 is about Italy and France in the 18th century. It was a point in time when both countries were trying to break free from the predisposed neoclassical ideas and venture into a new found land of sentimentalism with a broader array of dramatic genres. Although there was no overnight transformation that occurred during this century, it must be noted the bold and even major steps that both countries took toward the advancement of our theatrical art, with Italy being more influential on the scenic design side while France contributed greatly through literary works.

       ITALIAN SCENIC DESIGN By the 17th century, the scenic practices of Italy had been adopted virtually throughout most of Western Europe. For example: proscenium arches, perspective settings, rapid shifts of scenery, and spectacular special effects. These things popularized by Torelli and Vigarani, who opted, to keep symmetrically arranged perspective settings. However, as Vienna challenged the Italian cities for supremacy, scenic designers there such as Giovanni and Ludovico Burcnacani staged such elaborate productions that during the latter part of the 17th century there was a trend toward an increased size and grandeur in stage settings. This would prove to be most evident in the works of the Bibiena Family, the most important being Ferdinando, Francesco, Guiseppe, Antonio and Carlo. Ferdinando was appointed court architect at Vienna, which led to the widespread demand for all the Bibienas.

They had numerous contributions to scenic design although it was scena per angolo, angled perspective that would prove to be Ferdinandoís greatest innovation. This angled perspective used two or more vanishing points at the sides contrary to the previous use of only one. In this, the Bibienas characteristically placed buildings, walls, etc. at the center of the picture and relegated vistas to the sides.

This family also altered the scale of settings fore the effect of vastness was created in part by the sides of buildings etc that were not fully visible. The Bibiena settings divided the stage into a forward section and a background section, the forward composed of wings mounted onto the chariot and pole system. In essence, the practices of the Bibiena family are presently noted for being extensions of the baroque style, which "marked the departure from the dominant mode of the Renaissance, which was characterized by restraint, order, symmetrical balance, and rectangular space (Brockett, page 270). Thus, the overall effect was restlessness, grandeur, and richness.

Although scena per angolo was innovated by Ferdinando Bibiena, it was Filippo Juvarra who exploited it adopting it in Vienna around 1706 when he became the leading architect of Northwestern Italy. There were other families that were active in architecture during the 18th century such as the Mauro family, the Quaglio family, and the Gallari family. The visual style changed during the first half of the 18th century with comic operas (derived from the intermezzi) communizing domestic and rustic settings.


Although Italian scenic design dominated most of Europe, it cannot be said about that of Italian drama. Prior to 1750, the only noted Italian drama was Merope by Fransesco Scipione di Maffei. Then came Alfieri in 1775 that created the masterpiece Saul. Comedy did much better though than did tragedy. Up until 1750, comedies pretty much focused on only commedia del arte. However, sentimentalism grew making commedia seem crude and unfeeling. It was then that Italyís greatest comic writer emerged, Carlo Goldoni. He objected to many of the forms of the commedia and with his Comic Theatre he attacked itís methods. He called for abandoning the masks, asked for better speech, and substituted subjects based on life for the conventionalized situations of commedia. Goldoni had done much to abolish fantasy, vulgarity and nonrealistic devices and replace them with humor, sentiment and realism. His most famous work is the servant of Two Masters. He wrote 10 tragedies, 83 musical dramas, and about 150 comedies. Although Goldoni wrote about practically every profession and class, he seemed to idealize the middle and lower class often depicting nobility as useless.

Although very prolific, Goldoni was strongly opposed by Carlo Gozzi whose attack took the form of fiabe, or satiric fairy tales written for the commedia masks. Gozzi sought to maintain the characteristics that Goldoni tried to repress such as fantasy, enchantment and improvisation. Although he maintained a strong viewpoint for a couple of years through works such as The Turandot, and The Magic Bird, he simply faded away reflecting the weakness of Italian comedy and reflecting their major influences of the major European trends in theater.


During the 18th century France remained a major power although considerably weakened by a series of wars that plagued the land. French drama seemed to be backward looking, resembling its drama from the 17th century. Major trends can be seen through the works of LaGrange-Chancel, Crebillon, and Voltaire.

Joseph LaGrange-Chancel wrote 14 plays after 1694, the most popular being Ino and Melicerte. This took a trend towards melodrama, accelerated by Jolyot Crebillon, whose dramas were designed to arouse the spectator. His best play is said to be Rhadamisthe and Zenobie. Considered one of the greatest, this play held the stage until 1830 prior to its 1711 opening.

Voltaire dominated tragedy in the 18th century as he did in virtually all French literature and thought. He wrote 53 plays with half of them being tragedies. His plays continued the trend toward complex plots, involved character relations and sudden reversals of fortune. Some of his best works is Merope and Zaire. After living in France, Voltaire came to think that the neoclassical ideals were too restrictive and thus wanted to liberalize it.

Comedy underwent more changes though than did tragedy. The influence of Moliere is seen through the works of Dancourt, Regnard and LeSage, the major comic writers of the time. Dancourt had over 50 comedies with two being of special importance: The Fashionable Gentleman, and The Fashionable Middle Class Woman. The first introduces the gigolo, which would be prominent in later works, while the next tries to satirize the attempts of middle class women to be fashionable. Dancourt reflects the rise of the mercantile class.

Regnardís finest works were The Gambler and The Universal Heir. Lesage, after adopting plays from Lope De Vega, Calderon etc., launched a great attack on tax collectors in Turcaret, which is often dubbed as the first great comedy of manners. This play had under its surface a disguised criticism of Louis XIVís economic policies. This took a toll on his career, which left him writing novels and comic operas instead of drama.

There was a trend toward sentimentalism beginning around 1720, that was most evident in the works of Marivaux and LaChausse. Pierre Carlet de Chamblain de Marivaux came into the spotlight around 1720 with Arlequin Refined by Love. He had in his plays a subtle presentation of emotion. The obstacles in Marivauxís plays arise from the inner conflicts of the characters, being mostly concerned with awakening love. He is noted for his distinctive prose style, marivaudage, speech in Marivaux manner. With his emphasis on feeling, he contributed greatly to the rise of sentimentalism, with other works such as Le Jeu de líamour at du hasard.

Pierre Claude Nivelle de LaChausse with such works as False Antipathy and The Fashionable Prejudice, established comedie larmoyante, or tearful comedy. His plays resemble contemporary tragedy in their plots with its overall effect being refinement and delicacy.

After 1750, comedie larmoyante was adopted by such writers as Denis Diderot, who sought acceptance of a larger range of dramatic genres. He argued that neoclassicism was too narrow in restricting the acceptable dramatic types to traditional comedy and tragedy and that comedies concerning middle class should be added. He also came up with Paradoxe sur le Comedien, which was a theoretical work on techniques of acting. A type of scientific approach to this thing of art. Diderot inspired many writers although it is Beaumarchais that proved to be the most influential and in essence, the only major dramatist in the 18th century.

Beaumarchais is known for his comedy although he did write a few dramatic works. His fame nevertheless rests on his plays, The Barber of Seville and The Marriage of Figaro, which I am sure you read in theater 322A. He recaptured the spirit of laughing in his works.

By 1790, French drama had taken few steps away from neoclassicism though there were no ingenious innovations that occurred prior to the French Revolution.


In 1700 there were only two legitimate acting troupes; the Opera and the Commedie Francais. These were to remain the major acting troupes throughout the entire century, bringing about the first successful attempt to establish a system for acting training, bringing forth in 1786, the Royal Dramatic School after a time when performance style became more realistic.

Architecture of theaters didnít really change until 1750 after the Palais Royale burned. The changes were throughout Europe with them extending the size for the audience due to the fact that theater was now attracting a larger number in viewers fore the middle class was now beginning to attend. As early as the 1730í Voltaire urged the use of more appropriate spectacle when in 1760, palais a volonte and the chamber a quarter portes continued to be the usual settings. There were no more spectators on the stage fore now they wanted to have much more elaborate scene design.

The costume practices of France differed little than to that of England. They were dressed just as lavishly as the theater group could afford, wearing donations and presents from the wealthy in order to convey richness in their country.


In closing, both Italy and France were trying to break free of the restrictions of neoclassicism. Although France much better through their intriguing dramatists, both did not fare well in breaking free from the old ideals of neoclassicism. Although the change did not occur dramatically overnight, you cannot take away from these countries the fact that they did make major steps nonetheless in breaking free from their predisposed societal norms.